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Employment

The government knew of P&O Ferries’ mass sackings in advance but ‘didn’t tell anyone’

Union RMT has called the move “​​one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.”

The government knew of P&O Ferries’ plan to fire its entire 800 person crew with no notice and replace them with contractors but “didn’t tell anyone”, a union boss has revealed.

The company sacked the crew via a pre-recorded video message on Thursday, with staff told their contracts would be terminated with immediate effect. Staff say they did not receive anything in writing.

Union RMT is holding a series of protests in the ports of Dover, Hull and Liverpool on Friday. It has called the move “one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.” 

Unions had believed the move was unlawful, saying P&O failed to notify the secretary of state in writing, as is required by law when a company sacks over 100 employees, however it has emerged that ministers were told about P&O’s plans a day in advance. 

“The Department for Transport knew this was happening,” RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch told LBC, but ministers “didn’t tell anyone”.

Asked by MPs on Thursday when the P&O Ferries first informed the government it would be sacking its crew, transport minister Robert Courts admitted: “The government was first informed of this yesterday evening.”

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However unions say the move was still illegal as firms laying off 100 or more people are required to notify the Insolvency Service and hold a consultation with workers and their unions 45 days in advance of the staff leaving.

“This is clearly illegal,” Mark Dickinson, the general secretary of seafarers union Nautilus International told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. 

Sir Keir Starmer said the treatment of workers was “disgusting”. Labour is calling for the government to suspend the contracts and licences of DP World which owns P&O Ferries “until the matter is resolved.”

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh has written to Boris Johnson asking him to clarify when the government was notified of the redundancies and whether they were aware of the tactics that would be used. 

Security guards with handcuffs boarded P&O Ferries ships in Dover to remove the sacked crew, reported RMT. Crew onboard the Pride of Hull, docked in Hull, initially refused to leave the ship after the captain raised the gangway in response to the mass terminations. They have since disembarked.

“Firing loyal staff and replacing them with cheaper labour sourced from elsewhere is not a model that the public will wear. That model was not acceptable when our national flag carrier airline attempted to adopt it, and it is not acceptable now. The government should make it clear that it will not condone this behaviour,” said Huw Merriman, chair of the Transport Select Committee.

Karl Turner, Hull East Labour MP, and the city’s two other MPs, have written to Grant Shapps calling on him to intervene in the dispute.

The transport secretary has said officials would hold “urgent discussions” with P&O, the BBC has reported. 

P&O defended the mass redundancies, saying it had lost £100m a year for two consecutive years. “In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business,” said a spokesperson.

“As part of the process we are starting today, we are providing 800 seafarers with immediate severance notices and will be compensating them for this lack of advance notice with enhanced compensation packages.”

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